I wrote this to commemorate her 11th birthday, which is today:
The 100th day of 2000 was what journalists call a slow news day. There were presidential elections in Greece and Georgia. The British version of the Oscars ceremony was held. “Topsy Turvy” didn’t win Best Picture, though this unconventional account of Gilbert & Sulivan’s creation and production of “The Mikado” rivaled “Amadeus” in its account of how artistic creativity flows from inspiration to actual production.
And “Buena Vista Social Club”’s inexplicably didn’t win, despite its graceful and haunting sound track, which will be remembered long after CDs of the music from winner “American Beauty” are in the nickel bins at used CD stores. “Buena Vista Social Club” is a documentary about legendary American guitarist Ry Cooder almost singlehandly reviving the long-vanished careers of a group of elderly Cuban musicians.
In North America, football and hockey teams had games here and there, with winners and losers, but I don’t care. My wife and I almost certainly went to church on that April Sunday, enjoying the balmy spring weather here, with a high of 64°, low of 51°, clear skies, gentle breezes.
Elsewhere it wasn’t so nice. I’ve been in half of our nation’s states plus Puerto Rico, but not Pennsylvania (except from 40,000 feet). However, the Farmer’s Almanac filled me in on conditions for that day. Richland Township, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, got whacked by a surprisingly cold day of drizzle and wet snow, considering that it was April already, and Saturday had started out nice. But the next day only got to a high of 39°, low 26°. A little over half an inch of water in various forms, including ice pellets.
Kind of a miserable day (at least by California standards) to be having your second child, but Mike and Lisa Evancho did anyway. And I’m sure that when Lisa was holding Jackie in her arms for the first time that day, the fact that that little face would become, eleven years later, possibly the most recognizable face of any child that age in America—that the sounds coming out of that teeny mouth would be transfixing millions of rapt listeners instead of just that infant’s mommy and daddy—those facts had to be the last thing that might have crossed their minds. It wasn’t even the mysterious magic of your first child, where you don’t know the drill yet. Joy, yes, of course. Relief too, and not a little. Two arms, two legs, right number of fingers and toes, breathing like a champ. Whew! Still, they had been there before.
And over the next seven years, did she ever give them an inkling of the fact that she was more than just a beautiful, cheerful, joyful, thoughtful little girl? Was there ever a hint of the interpretive genius within—the one that materializes instantly when she opens her mouth to sing, then dissolves back into the happy child the instant she stops…that pair of transformations that has by now been marked by literally millions of astonished viewers?
Have Mike and Lisa ever rummaged through their memories, or asked the grandparents and the other relatives, when and whether they noticed any hint of what was slowly coiling up within this child—some comment she’d make that gave them pause, but only for a moment? Some sign? Portent? Anything? At least a sign of not having a problem with stage fright—of loving to perform for others? Of course a lot of people love to perform who really, really shouldn’t. And, for some, vice-versa. It’s a happy confluence of traits when a Jackie comes along with both.
Of course it’s hard to reflect on past years when the present has become a tornado. But the biographers are coming. I’d wager the Evanchos have already been approached by reputable publishers wanting to chronicle Jackie’s life and times. This may seem absurd on the face of it—but not to those who’ve heard her. (By “heard” I don’t just mean having been exposed to her singing, of course; I mean “heard.”)
And now she’s 11—in the prime of her life (that’s a mathematical joke)—and her prior prime was when she first started singing seriously. And her next prime will be the target of the saying “The worst two years in a woman’s life are when she’s 13—and when her daughter is.” But it’s hard to believe that Jackie won’t be the exception to that warning.
Because while she may seem too good to be true to cynics, I get the very strong feeling that it’s true that she’s just that good.